Friday, September 28, 2012

Umpiring: Surprisingly More Difficult in 1897

The umpires of the 1897 Red River Valley League, and in fact, umpires in all leagues near the turn of the century, performed a nearly impossible task. With the one-umpire system still the norm, the game's arbiters were doomed to feel the wrath of crazed fans and players.

The struggles of the umpires of the RRVL were well chronicled. Umpire O'Donnell's run-ins with Moorhead's Tim Keefe and others were characteristic of player-umpire interaction. In O'Donnell's case, the frustrations were enough for him to once quit in the middle of a game between Fargo and Moorhead. Umpire Tupper barely escaped a mob of Fargo fans after making an admittedly atrocious call in a Divorcees/Barmaids contest on June 26. Jimmie Hart of Wahpeton-Breckenridge inexplicably attacked and assaulted umpire Tige Lyons after Fargo destroyed the Methodists in a July 30 match up. Even more stable personalities such as Peaceful Valley Brown of the Fargo club lost their cool at times. Umpires endured constant criticism and nastiness from players, fans, coaches, and the local papers. The Grand Forks Herald, to their credit, provided some levity to the predicament of the umps in their July 2 issue, courtesy of the vastly talented cartoonist Straub. Here's a look at the Herald's take, which is probably more accurate than one would think: